Life in the wild is full of challenges. Animals have to work hard to survive. They must devote a lot of time to finding food, building a home, locating a suitable partner and defending their territory. Each day there are new challenges to adapt to, and animals must use their various abilities to deal with all possible situations.
Life in a zoo is far easier and more predictable, since we humans take care of the animals’ every need. This may mean they don’t have an outlet for their natural needs and behaviours, which in turn can lead to poorer welfare and, on occasion, the development of stereotypical and destructive habits. ‘Stereotypical behaviour’ is behaviour that is repeated in the same way over a long period, and which has no clear function or purpose. ‘Destructive behaviour’ can be different types of behaviour in which the animal injures itself or others – for example by plucking out its own feathers.
Enrichment is one of the main tools in behavioural management. This is a process that aims to offer the animals a stimulating environment and make it possible for them to express behaviour typical of their species, to maintain control of and have options within their environment, and to enhance their welfare.
At Nordens Ark, we strive to maintain a high standard of animal welfare. This includes ensuring that the animals are healthy and active and exhibit a variety of behaviours. Enrichment is a part of our daily care, and is for us just as important for the animals’ welfare as availability of food, water and space. Our enrichment work is based on how the animals live in the wild; on their natural behaviours, how they look for food, what their social structure looks like, and so on. From this we come up with an enrichment programme with specific behavioural goals that, as far as possible, satisfy the animals’ natural needs. All our species at Nordens Ark, from the little green toad to the great Amur tiger, are included in our enrichment programme.
There are various ways to enrich an animal’s life. Here are some examples:
- A boomer ball for the big cats. This is an activity ball that can withstand a tiger’s sharp claws. The ball is smeared with interesting tastes and smells, such as cat food and blood.
- Ice lollies. Sometimes we give our animals a big ice lolly – made from water mixed with goodies such as blood and meat. The lolly can contain lots of different things, depending on the animal, and be any shape or size.
- Food log. This is a log which we push food into. Among other things, the Przewalski’s horses get pellets in a food log. They have to push the log back and forth to make the pellets run out of the holes, and sometimes they help each other.
- Nature’s own challenges. When it snows, our keepers usually let out their inner child and build snowmen for the animals. Goodies are hidden in them and the animals get to investigate the snowmen to find them. The species react in different ways when the temporary ‘visitor’ appears in their enclosure. The wolves tend to be suspicious of the newcomer, while the snow leopards attack straight away.